If you are looking for an affordable method to file for divorce, using a paralegal may be the way to go.
Amy Wishart of DoItYourselfDocuments
has worked as a paralegal in the state of Washington for several years. Wishart said she provides a service that saves people time and money. “The main benefit is the savings as whole,” Wishart said. “If they have nothing to divide then it’s the easiest and most inexpensive way to get a divorce.”
According to Wishart, most paralegals charge anywhere from $150 to several hundred dollars to prepare divorce documents. The charge does not include the state’s filing fee, which depends on the state. For Washington, it costs $250 to file for divorce, she said.
While paralegals can help save a divorcing couple a lot of money, Wishart warns, the duo must be in agreement on all terms of the divorce. “In using a paralegal they either have to be in agreement, or they can’t find the other person so they know they will serve by publication and the other person won’t respond because the paralegal cannot give legal advice,” Wishart said. d360: Do it yourself divorcePARALEGAL DEFINED
According to the National Federation of Paralegal Associations
, there is no one definition that best describes the term paralegal. Instead, each state has its own legal understanding of the word.For Wishart, being a paralegal means knowing and understanding the legal processes. “A paralegal can do everything an attorney can do except give legal advice or step inside a court,” she said.
There are two types of paralegals. Wishart is an independent paralegal that prepares documents for individuals who retain her services. There are also paralegals that work for attorneys and can therefore speak on behalf of their employer, Wishart said.
Along with the definition, states also have separate certification or licensing processes for paralegals. Some states do not even require a paralegal to hold a certificate, Wishart said. Because paralegals are not legally allowed to provide their clients with advice, Wishart said many independent paralegals avoid direct contact with their customers. “Somebody who prepares documents can’t give advice, but they have the knowledge,” Wishart said. “It’s a very fine line that cannot be crossed.” d360: What is collaborative divorce?
To avoid crossing that line, Wishart, as with many paralegals, has her clients fill out and submit a questionnaire. She then uses the information provided to fill out the appropriate court documents, she said. “I use the questionnaire to avoid asking questions,” she said.
Danette Therkildsen, an independent paralegal with the Washington Divorce Service
, agrees with Wishart. “I’m very careful not to give legal advice,” Therkildsen said. “It’s just complicated for people. It can be a real challenge.”
Therkildsen, who has worked as a paralegal for 30 years, goes as far as to include a disclaimer on the home page of her Web site that reads, “WashingtonDivorceSerivce.com does not give legal advice. You are purchasing a package of completed forms based on the information you provide. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney.” d360: How does mediation work?